What happens if you don’t eat after a workout?

Find out more about post-workout nutrition

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

02 August 2021

What happens if you don’t eat after a workout?

If you don't eat after a workout, it can lead to problems such as low energy, dehydration, poor muscle recovery, low electrolyte levels and low mood. Additional symptoms that can arise as a result of not eating after exercise include muscle weakness, muscle fatigue, muscle cramps and irritability.

5 things that can happen if you don’t eat after a workout

So, let's take a look at five symptoms and issues that can occur if you don't eat following a workout, including why these problems arise and what can be done to avoid them in the first place.

1. Low energy

Exercise burns through the body's energy reserves and these need to be replaced quickly after a workout. Without replenishing energy reserves, the body will feel listless and tired.

Also, the body goes into repair mode immediately following a workout, causing blood sugar levels to plummet. This too can result in low energy levels.

Eating some energy-boosting foods is the best way to fight fatigue at this time. Try starchy carbohydrates for a good source of energy post-workout, plus a nutrient boost. There are several foods that fall into this category, including:

  • Wholemeal bread – provides magnesium, B vitamins, iron and calcium.
  • Potatoes – source of vitamin C and B vitamins
  • Brown pasta – high in fibre, B vitamins and iron
  • Brown rice – contains calcium, magnesium and iron.

Another good food option to boost energy after exercise is a banana as it contains nutrients like magnesium, potassium and B vitamins. So, try topping your wholemeal bread with some sliced banana for an excellent energy-improving snack.

Try to avoid sugary foods like biscuits and sweets after a workout. Whilst the sugar in these products can initially raise energy levels, this boost will be short-lived. In contrast, wholemeal food products combined with fruit like bananas will provide a more sustained lift in energy levels.

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2. Dehydration

The body loses fluids through sweat during exercise and this can increase the likelihood of dehydration, particularly if the temperature is also very hot at the time of the activity.

Whilst drinking plain still water is the easiest way to replenish fluid levels after exercise, eating after a workout can also be helpful. This is because we get fluids through certain foods such as melon, strawberries, broccoli and pineapple.

This makes a smoothie a particularly good post-workout snack. Not only can it be packed with fruit and vegetables to boost your fluid intake, but it is also a good way to provide your body with the vitamins and minerals that it may be in need of after a workout.

3. Poor muscle recovery

Eating after a workout will provide the energy necessary for metabolic processes to trigger muscle repair. Failing to eat at this time will, therefore, hinder muscle repair and leave the muscles achier.

Protein-rich foods are helpful in supporting muscle recovery. There are multiple options here, including quinoa, fish, beans, lentils and even peanut butter. Try a little peanut butter spread on top of a rice cracker or wholemeal bread for an energy-boosting, muscle-supporting snack after exercise. Alternatively, check out some of our protein-rich recipe ideas:

4. Low electrolyte levels

The body loses electrolytes like magnesium and potassium through sweat during physical activity. These need to be replenished through food and drink after the activity is complete in order to support energy levels and keep processes like muscle repair functioning well.

Failing to eat and top up electrolyte levels after a workout can result in fatigue, muscle weakness and muscle pain. Low levels of magnesium, in particular, may also result in muscle cramps.

Take your pick from vegetables and fruits like avocado, spinach, kale and broccoli to top up the body's electrolyte levels after exercise. To increase magnesium levels, nuts and legumes, including cashews, Brazil nuts and almonds, can also be good food choices after exercise.

Other than this, Balance Mineral Drink can help to top up your intake of essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium, vitamin D and zinc.

Balance Mineral Drink

"Gives the pre-run boost needed for a great run"

Read more customer reviews

5. Low mood

If you do not eat after exercise, it can result in low mood. This is because exercise depletes energy reserves and causes a drop in blood sugar levels. This may lead to irritability, tiredness and low mood.

You can help to keep these issues at bay by eating the right kind of foods after exercise. Once again, focus on lifting your energy levels with foods like wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds. These will boost energy over a period of time, rather than giving a quick but short-lived improvement.

Try these options out for yourself:

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